Ghana: Celebrating John Mensah Sarbah

Accra — A grand durbar of chiefs and people of the Oguaa Traditional Area will take place in the former capital city of Cape Coast today, to honour the memory of one of the most illustrious sons of this nation. John Mensah Sarbah, born at Anumabo on June 3, 1864 and died November 27, 1910, was the pioneer of the struggle for independence from British colonial rule.

A philanthropic lawyer, lay clergy and educationist, he formed the Aborigine's Rights Protection Society with J.P. Brown, J.W. de Graft Johnson and others to oppose the Lands Bill of 1897, which threatened the traditional system of African land tenure.

It was the successful opposition of the Land Bill that prevented the then Gold Coast from going the apartheid way, or the Mau Mau struggle of Kenya.

Born on a Friday to Mr. John Sarbah, a Cape Coast merchant, and Sarah, Mensah Sarbah was fondly called Kofi Mensah. He was educated at the Cape Coast Wesleyan School, which was later re-christened by Sarbah himself Mfantsipim, representing the spirit of the Fante state. From Mfantsipim, Mensah Sarbah enrolled at the Taunton School in England, before studying law at Lincoln's Inn in 1884.

John Mensah Sarbah was called to the English Bar in 1887. He was the first African barrister from the then Gold Coast. On his return to the Gold Coast, he became a leading critic of British Imperial rule.

He was particularly irked by the blatant attempt by the Colonial Land Appropriation Bill, which sought to place all lands in the Gold Coast under British imperial rule.

Arguing that land in Africa belonged to someone, and therefore, any attempt by the British colonial powers to confiscate indigenous lands was illegal, Sarbah used English Constitutional law to forcefully bring it home that the British had no right to rule the then Gold Coast.

He established the Fanti National Education Fund, which was aimed at improving education facilities in the country, and awarded scholarships to brilliant but needy students. Mensah Sarbah established a special fund at Mfantsipim, which helped to pay the salaries of staff when the school ran into financial difficulties.

Sarbah served as a member of the Legislative Council interested in law reforms. His published works include the Fante National Constitution (1906), which was a result of an elaborate research on customary laws.

He also authoured Fante Customary Laws - a brief introduction to the principles of the native laws of the Fante and Akan districts of the Gold Coast.

An old boy, he gave Mfanstipim its current name and emblem - Dwen Hwe Kan - Think and Look Ahead. Fifty-three years after his death, the University of Ghana dedicated its first mixed hall on the Legon Campus to the memory of John Mensah Sarbah.

A dormitory at the Mfantsipim School was also named after him - Sarbah Picot.

It is, therefore, not by accident that the Centenary Celebrations of the death of John Mensah Sarbah should begin at the Mensah Sarbah Hall at Legon, under the theme 'Advancing the Cause of Administrative Justice Delivery and Educational Reform - a quest for patriotism.'

His Lordship S.A. Brobbey, Justice of the Supreme Court, delivered the first lecture at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16, 2011, at the Great Hall, University of Ghana, Legon. He dissected the topic: "If there is one thing in which there should be uniformity and as little preferential treatment as possible, it is administrative justice."

It is unfortunate that the event coincided with the reading of the Budget, and received little or no publicity in the media.

At 5:15 p.m. the same day, Wednesday November 16, His Lordship Prof. A.K.P. Kludze, a retired Supreme Court judge, took his turn at the podium. He dealt with a topic that spoke volumes about the patriotism of the man the centenary of his death, is being observed.

"I do not spurn or refuse the very handsome retainer of four hundred guineas, but in serving my country, the land of my birth, within her borders, I seek no reward nor expect any remuneration." In this day and age, how many Ghanaians care about promoting this society without expecting rewards?

In an era when officials of state are building mansions, obviously from state resources... when the General Secretary of the ruling political party is allegedly trading with an organisation of which he is a Board Member, where is the patriotism?

Last weekend, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) organised its primaries for what officials of the party call orphan constituencies in the northern half of the country.

The exercise continues in the South this weekend. After the exercise covering orphan constituencies has been completed, the primaries will move to the heartland of the party's core support base, where sitting Members of Parliament are being contested.

In all this exercise, what is standing out is that members appointed by President John Evans Atta Mills, with state largesse available to them, are hiking the stakes. In other words, money is doing the talking.

Young men and women, some of who had not held on to any serious jobs in their lives until they were thrust into political office, are now calling the shots in monetary terms.

It is not long ago that it emerged that Dr. Hannah Bissiw, a Veterinary Surgeon, who before being appointed Deputy Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing was not known on the property market. Within two years of taking charge of water at the Ministry, the lady, barely in her thirties, has put up two houses and constructed a party head office for the NDC at Bechem.

The irony of the situation is that 95 percent of the budget for water supply in the country is funded by donors.

The likes of Ama Benyiwa-Doe and Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo, the hatched persons of the NDC when the party was in opposition, were given charge of the Central and Eastern regions to administer.

Both are now doing beautifully on the property market. I must add that property-owning political office-holding did not begin with this administration.

The Convention People's Party (CPP) that led Ghana to independence in 1957 was in power for nine years. By the time the administration was overthrown in February 1966, Mr. Krobo Edusei, who held various portfolios under Nkrumah, had over 30 houses.

We are told that prior to joining the CPP and becoming powerful, Krobo Edusei was a newspaper vendor in Kumasi.

When the New Patriotic Party wanted a flagbearer for the party in 2007, as many 17 top officials of the party, ministers and other party shots combed the length and breadth of the country all seeking to become president. They had all migrated from ordinary folks of society to become resourceful enough to run that expensive campaign.

The dedication, with which Mensah Sarbah, for instance, served this society, is fast becoming a thing of the past. Not too long ago, the doctrine of Christianity taught selflessness as a condition for ascending to heaven.

In the words of Archbishop Duncan Williams, head of the Action Chapel and some of the latter-day priests, God, the Almighty, loves the rich.

It is beginning to look like the reward for services to humanity is measured in material things. There are not many Mensah Sarbahs left on the earth. That is one reason John Mensah Sarbah would remain a national icon. When cometh another Sarbah?

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